Students interested in a career in medicine will no doubt fall into one of the following categories. Either they want to be a doctor or surgeon and have a good chance of getting the required grades.
Alternatively they want to be a doctor (or their parents demand it) but you know deep down they won’t get the grades needed to get into Med School. Or lastly they like the idea of working in the NHS but have no idea what to do.
With the first group, all you need to do is support, encourage and help them find opportunities to strengthen any UCAS application. They will already be focused on what they want to achieve as an end goal – therefore concentrate more on the other two categories.
You know the second group are good students, but they won’t get the A and A* grades across the board for Med School. How do you tell them to modify their ambitions? What other choices do they have? Well, the good news is they have plenty.
Healthcare Science There is a group of careers in the NHS that come under the banner of healthcare science. There are over 40 to choose from, across five different sub sectors, which just adds to the appeal as they are all very different. Plus, the NHS would grind to a halt without them as they perform 85 per cent of the diagnostic tests in a hospital.
In physiology you have lots of direct contact with patients via the running of such diagnostic tests. You can specialise further in testing specific organs like the heart, lungs, ears, brain and nerves, or gastrointestinal tract. You can even become a sleep physiologist and monitor what happens to the body as it slumbers.
The life science careers are typically more lab-based, but patient contact is still part of the remit. You could be an immunologist and histocompatability scientist and check that organ donors and organ recipients are a match for transplant. Or you could test blood and various other bodily fluids as a hematologist microbiologist or virologist.
Then there is medical physics where you could be working with radioactive medicines or taking images of the body with CT, MRI and PET scanners. Medical engineers repair and maintain hospital equipment, or you could be involved in the design and customisation of equipment and even body parts for patients.
The newest arena, which is set to be a huge growth area for the NHS, is bioinformatics. This is how we store data from tests and patient records digitally. Many hospitals are now going paper-lite, so all records are accessible on computers or tablets. Plus, there are all the images, results and your genetic make-up that has to be stored. That is a huge amount of information – so having people in place to properly organise and run this kind of facility is vital.
Moreover, if students who fall within the third group can simply attain grades A – C (not A*) in just Maths, English and Science they are on the first step to becoming a healthcare scientist. This scenario opens up these careers to so many different types of student, whether your interest is science, IT, engineering to name but a few.
The next great thing about them is that you can go down the apprenticeship route, or become a healthcare science associate, which is like training on the job. You can take a classic sixth form or college then university route and go and study something different – then top up with a postgraduate course to qualify.
The university route For the university route, check out the healthcare science section on the UCAS website. Different universities have different specialisms within their healthcare science course, e.g. some will focus more on physiology and some life sciences. During your schooling, try and experience them all and then decide which one you want to focus on?
Via UCAS you can also check what qualifications each university wants from your students to get accepted onto any course. Apprenticeships meanwhile are advertised on specialist websites as well as NHS Careers and Job sites.
Drawing them in So, one of the major benefits of healthcare science is that it is open to more than your high ability A* pupil. This accessibility through different routes also means it is a more attractive career path for pupils that would not normally consider university. It offers career paths that are attractive to both boys, girls and the disadvantaged – basically any pupil that has a fleeting interest in STEM.
The trick is to draw them in, make them aware and give them a tantalising taste of what is possible. There are lots of ways to do this, but here are my top three:
Firstly, contact your local STEM Hub – they run events, training, find outside speakers for you, help you put on STEM events and most importantly connect you to healthcare science STEM ambassadors. They will do all the leg and paper work for you and make it as easy as possible for your school to access these ambassadors.
Secondly, STEM Ambassadors will visit the school for free and provide a talk or activity for your class. Being very passionate about what they do they’re the ideal people for your pupils to speak to. They are usually under used as well, so will probably jump at the chance.
Lastly, NHS Careers has some great and easily accessible material on its website, but unfortunately these are not promoted widely enough, so pupils and teachers miss out. Visit www.nhscareers.nhs.uk.
Science Minister Chris Skidmore spoke at the BETT Show, reiterating the government's commitment to education technology and working with industry to create solutions that address some of the challenges in education.